At Great Camp Sagamore, Dan Duggan is an icon. Every staff member, guest, and instructor knows his name. From calling out directions in barn dances, to playing magnificent melodies on his hammer dulcimer, to grooming his ever-growing mustache, Dan certainly makes an impression. Sagamore especially would not be the same without frequent performances by the Jamcrackers, a music trio comprised of Dan Duggan, his wife Peggy Lynn, and longtime friend Dan Berggren. Although Dan Duggan plays his music seemingly effortlessly, he worked hard to achieve the fame and success he now shares with the rest of his musical trio.
Dan grew up in a small town just outside of Syracuse, New York. When he was a child, he was fascinated by music and often listened to his parents’ records. At an early age, he learned to identify the different instruments he heard in the records, demonstrating a growing musical talent. Wanting to turn his passion for music into something he could use, Dan’s parents signed him up for piano lessons.
Although Dan loved listening to piano music, he didn’t excel with the lessons. He was bored by his teacher, who would teach using flashcards rather than actually playing the instrument. So, Dan quit piano lessons and focused on teaching himself the guitar instead. He immediately loved his new instrument! He played the guitar throughout high school and college, and his passion for music kept growing.
During his last year of college, Dan took a TV and radio course taught by Dan Berggren. One day, Dan skipped class and went to a folk music gathering that night. Across the room at the event, he spotted none other than his professor, Dan Berggren, and immediately thought he would get in trouble for skipping class! Rather, the two bonded over their love of folk music, starting a friendship that would last a lifetime.
Dan passed Dan Berggren’s class, despite skipping it once or twice, graduated from college, and moved out West. While there, he caught Valley Fever. When Dan was sick, a friend came to visit him and brought a hammer dulcimer for Dan to borrow while he recovered. In college, Dan had played guitar in a bluegrass band and one of the band members had introduced Dan to the hammer dulcimer, but he never had the chance to play. Remembering the tunes his band played, Dan taught himself all kinds of hammer dulcimer songs and melodies. After his recovery, Dan moved back to New York and purchased his own hammer dulcimer. It was the instrument that “changed my life in many ways,” he said.
In 1985, Dan won the national Hammer Dulcimer competition. This victory pivoted him in a whole new direction and opened a lot of doors for him. Behind one of these doors was the opportunity to record with Paul Simon, gaining him further recognition and fame. Recording with so many different musicians allowed Dan to make lifelong relationships with amazing individuals. Looking back, the competition was one of the most defining moments in his life.
Dan Duggan and Dan Berggren had some mutual friends who were interning at Great Camp Sagamore. After coming to visit them, Dan and Dan fell in love with the place. The two had been playing music together for a while and decided to create their own music program at Great Camp Sagamore’s Grandparents & Grandchildren Camp. A few years later, Dan Berggren’s father passed away, and at the funeral Dan Duggan met one of Dan Berggren’s bandmates, Peggy Lynn. The musical duo turned into a trio, and Peggy Lynn says when the three started performing together at Great Camp Sagamore in the 1990’s, “the music brought Dan and I together.” Sagamore was the place where Dan and Peggy fell in love, and it continues to hold a special place in their hearts.
Despite Dan’s career and personal successes, his life has not been without difficulty. Ten years ago, Dan was diagnosed with neck cancer. Radiation was his main method of treatment. Five years later, he developed an infection in what was left of his jaw, and the doctors had to use Dan’s fibula to completely rebuild his jaw. This ordeal caused Dan’s voice to change, and it still fades easily. Although the cancer created some hardships Dan says, “[it] hasn’t defined who I am, but rather makes me adjust what I do.” Today, when Dan comes to Great Camp Sagamore to lead barn dances or perform, he uses a tiny microphone to help his voice last longer.
Dan Duggan has one of the biggest personalities at Great Camp Sagamore. He doesn’t work at Sagamore full time but has made an effort to get to know every interns’ name and talk to everyone when he is in camp. Not only has Dan made a great impact on Great Camp Sagamore, Great Camp Sagamore has made a great impact on him. He and Peggy Lynn return every summer with their granddaughter, and Camp has become like family to them. Every time he leaves, he thinks “I hope I get to come back next year!”
I think I can speak for all of the staff here at Sagamore when I say that we hope he comes back too.